Wednesday, November 13, 2013

I Knew It!

When this story hit the headlines and all my feminist friends (which is to say, all my friends) reacted with outrage, I saw something other than a normative, male-dependent, self-loathing woman: I saw an ambitious stunt-blogger who was looking to parlay a self-consciously provocative story into a book deal and a shot at being the next Julie Powell.

Sure 'nuff!

Mind you, the feminist critique is warranted: The tale of Stephanie Smith's 300-sandwich race to a diamond finish line with her boyfriend Eric Schulte pings every invidious stereotype of the ring-seeking "gal" trying to prove she's "wife material."

But I saw more than just "make me a sammich, bitch" misogyny in their schtick all along: Maybe Schulte really is an unreconstructed bro, and maybe Smith is every bit the husband-hungry "chick" their tale suggests... but it has seemed more calculated than that to me since I first heard of it: I think it was a deliberate book proposal from the very beginning.

I loved the Julie & Julia film, and I entirely bought Powell's story as authentic. The sheer rawness and vulnerability of her second book, Cleaving (which I loved, though critical reactions were mixed), betrays not the slightest hint of calculation or pretense. Love her or hate her, it's hard to doubt that Powell's memoirs — even the "stunt" of cooking her way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year — grew organically out of her own life.

On the other hand, I strongly suspect Smith's tale grew organically out of... watching Powell go from blog to bestseller to the big screen, and wanting to replicate that path. It needed a food-related challenge; it needed the right mix of romance and romantic tension; it needed a Hollywood finish line.

There's nothing inherently wrong with basing a book on an artificial stunt: A.J. Jacobs has practically made a career of it, and George Plimpton essentially invented the form with his participatory sports writing. But Smith's project just seems too canned, too derivative, too self-consciously media savvy to be compelling.

And that's before you even get to the project's reliance on outdated and unwanted concepts around gender roles and relationships.

If Smith had simply blogged about trying to invent 300 (or some suitably challenging number) of unique gourmet sandwiches, I'd happily have read that blog, and bought that cookbook; as it is, I think I'll make my own damn sammich!

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